By Taylor Nichols
For homeless families living in Blaine, finding a place to sleep at night often means splitting up between men’s and women’s shelters in Bellingham.
One step will be taken to solve this problem when a single-family home intended to help a homeless family will open in Blaine in the new year.
Grace Lutheran Church in Blaine is partnering with the Interfaith Coalition, a Bellingham-based organization dedicated to ending homelessness by providing housing, food and clothing for those in need, to open and manage Grace House.
Grace House will provide a homeless family with affordable, temporary housing for up to one year until they are able to stabilize and move into a permanent home.
The housing program is designed to help get families back on their feet through a joint effort between Interfaith, Grace Lutheran and the family themselves.
Pastor Aaron Zuch said the church is in the final phases of purchasing a four-bedroom home in Blaine and plans to have it available for a homeless family in need by mid-February.
Once selected by Interfaith, the family will rent the home, which is located near the church, at a reduced rate based on family size and income. The tenants will also be responsible for utilities.
“We can’t solve the homelessness problem now,” Zuch said. “But we can solve the homelessness problem for one family at a time, and then do it for another family.”
Transitional housing helps bridge the gap between staying in shelters and finding a permanent home. In 2018, Whatcom County’s Homeless Point-In-Time Count recorded 572 homeless households. The 2017 count showed 520 households.
Providing long-term temporary housing in Blaine means a family can stay together, save money and stay in their community. Currently, transitional housing in Whatcom County is only available in Bellingham and Ferndale.
Grace Lutheran is purchasing the home and Interfaith will manage the housing program, including interviewing and selecting families and providing case management. Interfaith housing programs are not religious and there are no faith-based requirements of living at Grace House, said Interfaith development director Holly Miller.
While benefiting from transitional housing, homeless families often are in need of case management, Miller said. This can include financial planning, help finding a job and help securing permanent housing.
Once the immediate stress of finding shelter is alleviated, families can work toward becoming independent as a household, said Grace Lutheran’s social ministry chairperson Gretel Conaway.
“You hear about homelessness all the time now, and to be able to keep a family together and to help them get back on their feet and be self-sufficient is really a big deal,” said John Veleber, a Grace House committee member.
One in 27 Blaine school district students were homeless in the 2016-17 school year, according to data from Washington state’s Office of Superintendent Public Instruction. That year marked the first that this many kids were homeless in Blaine schools since the 2008 recession.
Conaway said members of their congregation who volunteer at the Blaine Food Bank and other social services recognized the acute need for housing in Blaine. A strong majority of congregation members supported the idea, and the bulk of funds needed to purchase the house were raised within the first month from donations and pledges from members of the church, Zuch said.
“Folks want to help, you know, we want to have a strong, family-oriented community,” Conaway said. “So getting together as a group, as a congregation, and being able to help in a big way has been motivating for our members.”
The property includes a small cottage, which the church hopes can be a second transitional home for a smaller family in the future, Zuch said.
For those interested in donating to Grace House, visit blaine-grace-lutheran.org and click the “Give Online” button.
There’s also an option to donate by shopping online through Amazon Smile. The Amazon Smile Foundation donates 0.5 percent of purchases to a charity you select. To select Blaine Grace Lutheran Church, visit amzn.to/2QAHMYV.